The Long-Ass Curvy Road

chase jarvis iphone photoYou have all the talent in the world. You’ve landed some great gigs. You are the hardest working photographer you know. But you can’t figure out why you haven’t “arrived”.

Well, first thing’s first. Have we ever really “arrived”? I have been at it for more than a decade. I can make a case for some measure of success, but I can say for sure that I haven’t “arrived” at anything but a little more freedom, a better work ethic, and better vision. And that’s keeping me going.

Second thing. This stuff of course all matters deeply–the talent, the gigs, the hard work – I’ve talked about those before as “get in the door” sorts of qualities. But you know what else matters that’s rarely discussed? You’ve gotta be in the game–not just AT the game, but IN the game. For years.

It’s my personal experience and the experience of many “successful” artists I know that nothing of real substance ever happens fast enough. We’re impatient bastards, all of us. A career is not made from one picture or one campaign, or even three or five. It’s not your first exhibition that gets you the bump you want to get, it’s your 10th or your 100th.

I can’t say for sure what “having arrived” is, but I know that part of it is staying on the long-ass curvy road for a good long while. Better love what you’re doing.

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Tamea Burd says:

If you aren’t a photographer primarily because it’s what you love, then success – however you define it – will never be tangible and real.

But if it is what you love, then bear in mind – no matter how hard things are, or how much of a struggle – that anyone who ever succeeded, did so because they refused to give up. (No matter how crazy or stupid or stubborn everyone else thought they were.)

Staying on your path, despite all obstacles, doubts and fear… That’s success.

Michal Fanta says:

Thank you, Chase!

Great post. I’ve said the same to photographers for years.
Someone once asked me after many years “in the game” when I did I know I was successful. It was a great question and I thought for a while and answered “When you know you can say ‘no’ ‘”. Too many photographers lack the gene in their DNA to walk away from a bad job. And when you’re starting out, it can be even harder. I’ve never regretted saying no to a bad deal.
You’re dead on in saying that getting there isn’t a “flash” but more like a long exposure.

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“Better love what you’re doing.”

Exactly. You soooooo get it.

Thanks Chase. Your words of wisdom are highly appreciated, as always…

Matt Bostock says:

I’ll have “arrived” when I make a sustainable living from photography. Anything beyond that is bonus points, as long as you keep pushing yourself.

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Amen again. As soon as you think you’ve arrived and your stuff don’t stink is probably at the point where you believe your own hype and then hit the slippery downhill slide.

Keep it real someone once said.

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Ethan says:

So well said and so very true!
I really try (and sometimes I have to try really hard) to enjoy every step of the way and when I manage to do so, it doesn’t really matter if the path is short or long.

But then again I am impatient …. so it remains a challenge!

Thanks for your inspiring words Chase!

Will Austin says:

So true, great post Chase. Carry on Sir…..

Glyn Dewis says:

I guess this is all about ‘staying the course’ and being on this journey for the long haul.

Great post Chase,

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Best blogpost I’ve seen in a long, long time! Thanks Chase

Robin Smink says:

This strongly reminds me of the 10,000 hour theory, often discussed by Malcolm Gladwell. For anyone to become master at anything in life, it takes 10,000 hours, not just raw talent alone.

Look it up, there is quite some literature on it.

Well said Brother. You gotta be able to take the up’s with the downs and just know that in the end, if you do what you love, the success will follow / you will eventually “arrive” ! In this business it is a Marathon and not a Sprint. Good post thanks!

My wife was a director on the fringe theatre circuit in London for a while and she worked with some very talented actors. For most, success couldn’t come fast enough and it ate away at them. For them, life was full of frustration and disappointment.

One actor, though, took a different tack. His whole career plan was to hang in there. Eventually, he would reach a point at which most of his colleagues would have given up, creating a shortage of actors in that age bracket.

We now see him crop up on TV from time-to-time. I wish I could say he was famous, wealthy and happy. I can’t. Nonetheless, as far as we know, he is still IN the game, while many of his contemporaries have fallen by the wayside.

He hasn’t arrived, but he is at least still on the road.

Harry says:

I genuinely think one of the best things about photography is the dissatisfaction. I am sure whoever it is that you admire most will be thinking that that last gig was OK but that it just needs that little bit of something extra, maybe next time it could be that little bit better.

Jim Moore says:

Great post Chase and you make a good point about the ‘long ass curvy road’ – although I’d probably add the word ‘bumpy’ too.

I’ve been on that road for about 4 years and looking back it’s been full of delight, surprises, sighs of relief and sighs of despair.

One thing I have noticed is that the more you give back to clients in terms of enthusiasm, or being fired-up for the job in hand, they come back to you for more; that and work usually leads to more work – which is why I’ve never really had the whole business plan or projections because they’re usually just guesses.

Almost 4 years on I’m starting to get some good steady work from a wide range of clients, some of which I would have never dreamed of. At the same time, I’ve never really resisted the niche that I have eventually found myself in – (I started on doing landscape/architecture photography but now do a lot of retail/corporate work) – ultimately you might think you’re cut out for a certain area of work, but sometimes, much to our benefit our clients see differently… and sometimes maybe they’re right because they are the ones who pay for the work.

Success is elusive. I have been at it for 13 years now, having experienced “Success” (my definition at the time: Full time freelance, and getting published-multiple times) with in my first 6 months.

I rode this for 4 years until 9/11, my first recession. I had to get a part time job for a short while to keep things going, as work slowed down in my market. But with in 2 years it was all back! And I had another measure of success: I bought my first house.

Then 2009 hit. I lost one of my biggest clients (after shooting for them for 10 years). They kept me so busy that I did not have time to do much marketing. Not that I had to*, all the other work I needed came from long time customers and word of mouth.

*HUGE lessoned learned: No matter how busy you are, ALWAYS market. It has been a year now since loosing that client. I started marketing again right away, but as anybody who does any kind of marketing knows, it can take months to reap the rewards.

At the same time I decided to take my career in a new(ish)direction. So these variables all add to the effect of appearing almost “new” again. I am re-branding myself, creating new contacts, and showing my “book” to new art directors, etc. It is a long road, that I took once already. But this game is about perseverance, and I am all in this for the 2nd leg of the race.

Hey Chase,
Well said. I have been at it almost 3 decades now, and from what I can tell, it is all about staying in the game as you put it. Success is Darwinian. Those who persevere win. Many many are the name photographers whom I have seen disappear over the years. The truth is, that even though this is a great gig, and someone may love it to death, one has to keep at it for life, you have to stay relevant, which is hard. Its not like Avedon retired, or Penn or Newton or any of those guys.
Best wishes,
David Harry Stewart


Over your career, only you can truly know the kind of concentration, experimentation, highs/lows, try this/try that, win some/lose some, hit/miss, success and dissappointments your path has led you to today. When you look behind you, open your eyes, and you might also see a blazing trail….YOURS! I am sure that there are big giants in the industry that you measure your success against. But for me, I look at you as a trail blazer. I found your blog sight and thought that you were so innovative, & courageous. The inspiration that you provide and your ability to share your ideas freely is what keeps me checking for new Chase posts everday. Your willingness to share is huge. It is part of a bigger scheme of things to come for you. You give, you get, you give more, you get more. I think you are soooo on that gravy train. Be encouraged as you encourage others & Keep steam rolling ahead.

nick wilson says:

it is a long curvy road indeed – i’m loving it and hope the passion never dies!!!

Great advice! Some words I really needed to hear! thanks for sharing!

Anybody who is not enjoying the journey is on the wrong road.

“Success is a journey, not a destination.” -Ben Sweetland

I try to live by that as much as I can. It makes every experience a rewarding success, instead of some phantom goal or destination of “arrival.”

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I guess the key to success is perseverance, but sometimes we just want instant gratification, even if we love what we are doing. I appreciate this post as a reminder that we not only have to “arrive” but, to stay on top, you have to keep working hard and focused.

Raji Barbir says:

I think none of us know what the hell we’re doing. As a result, it looks like everyone else knows what they’re doing except us.

Marianne Barta says:

Thanks. I needed to hear that and need to continue remembering that for myself.

Khashayar says:

100% true… the 4th paragraph really encouraged me to do more and be patient… thanks chase

Big Al says:

Like for many photography has been one of my great a passions. I’ve kinda realized that if I decided to pursue it as a career it would definitely be a long haul; however this post is encouraging!

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